California Condor
July 13, 2014

3D Technology And Supercomputers Used To Help Endangered Species

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

The California Condor is the largest wild bird in North America, with an average height of 50 inches and a wingspan around 9 feet. The Condor can live between 45 and 80 years, according to Defenders of Wildlife. The bird is listed as endangered, coming so close to extinction that in 1986 there were only 22 wild Condors left. The current population of just over 400 wild birds is due to extraordinary measures taken in 1987 when all of the remaining birds were captured and bred in captivity to keep the species from extinction. Condors were reintroduced into the wild in 1992, and conservation efforts continue today.

A team of researchers — including scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS), the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and others — has developed a new methodology that combines 3D technology and advanced range estimator technologies. This methodology provides highly detailed data on the range and movements of terrestrial, aquatic, and avian wildlife species. One of the focuses of this study, published online in PLOS ONE, was the California Condor, with the goal of gaining a better understanding of the range and movements of the birds, using miniaturized GPS biotelemetry units attached to every Condo released into the wild.

"We have been calculating home ranges for the tracked condors in three dimensions for the first time using this GPS location data, and our novel density estimator was used to incorporate the vertical component of animal movements into projections of space-use," said James Sheppard, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate at the Institute for Conservation Research, in a recent statement.

Conservation efforts to reintroduce the California Condor back into its historic range of the mountains of California and Mexico have been challenging. There has been a lack of knowledge about the birds, movement patterns and habitat use.

"This data will be used as a predictive management tool to inform conservation efforts to restore condor populations, particularly with regard to emerging threats such as climate change and wind energy impacts," added Sheppard.

The research team tracked three iconic, but threatened, species: California condors, giant pandas, and dugongs (large marine mammals similar to manatees). Highly detailed datasets and visualizations were then developed with the help of the expertise of researchers from the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego.

"We were able to speed up their software by several orders of magnitude," said Robert Sinkovits, SDSC's director of the Scientific Applications Group, which helps researchers make optimal use of SDSC's larger supercomputers. "In this case, calculations that had formerly taken four days to complete were finished in less than half an hour."


SHOP NOW: The California Condor: A Saga of Natural History and Conservation